Being from a hard-working family and a musically bland city, Janelle Monáe has always highlighted the under-appreciated and the outsider with her lyrics. What sets her apart is the willingness to speak and deliver multilayered analysis of complicated social issues. She isn’t just a feminist who gives powerful speeches, the topic is a resounding feature in her music. Since her mixtape days, she has, sonically, lyrically, and aesthetically articulated a vision for the liberation of women and black People.
On ‘Dirty Computer’ she tackles some interdisciplinary construct of black feminism, which embody womanhood, queerness and racism. Her most uplifting and inspiring songs on the album are ‘Crazy, Classic, Life’, ‘Django Jane’, ‘Pynk’, ‘I Like That’ and ‘Americans’.
On ‘Crazy, Classic, Life’, She promotes self-freedom, self-confidence and independence for all women as she sings “I am not America’s nightmare, I am the American Dream”. The intro on this song is an excerpt from the ‘Declaration Of Independence’ which beams a spotlight on the need for equal rights for men and women. With her lyrics, she paints a picture of what it’s like to live a crazy, classic, life in a world where everyone is equal.
‘Django Jane’ is the all-rap track, in which Janelle talks about the power of women and her accomplishments as a woman. In an interview with The Guardian, she described this song as a response to threats being made to her rights as a black, sexually liberated woman.
With lines like: “Black girl magic, y’all can’t stand it. Y’all can’t ban it…..” and “We gave you life, we gave you birth, We gave you God, we gave you Earth” she puts women on the pinnacle of the world. After noting the contribution and importance of women to the world, she poses the unchallengeable rhetorical question “If she the G.O.A.T. now, would anybody doubt it?”. Indeed every woman is the G.O.A.T.
She uses the lyrics on ‘Pynk’ to declare the supremacy of the color and links it to women using it as a euphemism and simile for the vagina and other parts of the body. Stereotypically in Western culture, boys are associated with blue and girls with pink. Janelle fits in an uncomplicated female empowerment message into this song as she sings: “Cause boy, it’s cool if you got blue We got the pynk“. This line leaves men in the shadows of jealousy as the color they constantly avoid turns out to be the most supreme color. ‘Pynk’ isn’t just a reference to female body parts, but also a reference to everything around us that shares the color pink. With this song, she creates a great argument for Pink as the best color in the world. Many women will feel self-love as they listen to this song and appreciate the beauty in being female.
On ‘I Like That’, she cant be judged for showing interest and being attracted to whoever, or whatever she likes. Her second and third verse contain lyrics that describe a lady who is confident and knows her worth—that’s how every woman should feel! As she sings: “I don’t care what I look like but I feel good. Better than amazing, and better than I could” in her second verse, psychologically, it creates the highest feeling of self-confidence and self-esteem.
‘Americans‘ is not only unshackling for females, but for every American. Janelle mentions the infamous gap in pay between men and women in the line: “Seventy-nine cent to your dollar”.
In a Trump-era, Janelle Monáe has created an anthem not only for black women, but for every American. In addition to her empowering lyrics on this song, she adds a ‘Not my America’ speech in the bridge that hits home.
An excerpt from the spoken words in the bridge:
“Until women can get equal pay for equal work, this is not my America
Until same-gender loving people can be who they are, this is not my America.”
The chorus serves as an American anthem for the underrepresented and underprivileged.
The most important thing about this album is the message. With the lyrics, she addresses serious issues like sexuality, feminism, politics, and love. Her lyrics are poetic, metaphorical and rhythmic. With her lyrics, she shows strength, passion, pain, love, aggression, confidence and fear. She presents her lyrics like a mediator betweenthe oppressed and the oppressor. She’s like the Archangel in the Bible, and what Neo represents to the Matrix. For feminists and people of color, this album will elicit strong emotions. Most importantly, every woman should hold on to this album like a bible.
Written by Tommy Monroe (@TommyMonroe_ on Twitter.)
Welcome back to the GA Book Club! It feels like I haven’t written a book club post in a long time because the first Sunday of the month has fallen a little later than usual. But that’s good because it’s given me time to really get stuck into April’s book, Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde.
Before I talk about the text, I’ll tell you a little bit about Lorde herself as she is truly a remarkable woman. Born in New York City in 1934, Lorde was predominantly a poet throughout her life. In everything she did, she voiced issues of gender, race and sexuality. Lorde herself was a black, female, lesbian feminist, something she discusses throughout many of the essays in this book, and so, obviously, these issues were very close to her heart. After a long battle with cancer, that she documented in The Cancer Journals (1980), she passed away in 1992 shortly after taking on an African name, Gamba Adisa, meaning “she who makes her meaning clear.” She is viewed as an important figure in the twentieth century feminism movement and, in my opinion, is one of the few second-wave feminists who consistently advocated intersectionality within feminism.
The essays and speeches within this text are both academic and personal but each and every one of them felt like a really important read. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to talk about every essay within the book but I will discuss some of my favourites.
Moving through chronologically, I’ll start with ‘Poetry Is Not a Luxury’, one of her shorter essays. In this essay, Lorde discusses how essential poetry is for women’s existence in a world where they are restricted in so many ways. She states, ‘Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.’ She also describes the power of poetry in bringing freedom and revolution to women. As a lover of literature and a believer that culture really can bring about change, I loved this essay so much.
In ‘An Open Letter to Mary Daly’, Lorde discusses what is today referred to as ‘white feminism’ and portrays the dangerous problems of exclusionary empowerment. She discusses the importance of white women, who are inherently privileged by the very nature of their race, speaking up for black women. She addresses white women in saying, ‘The white women with hoods on Ohio handing out KKK literature on the street may not like what you have to say, but they will shoot me on sight.’ This anecdote is the perfect example of why it is so important for everyone to make use of their privilege. It also reminded me of the recent incident of two black men being arrested at a Starbucks in America for no other reason than that they were there. If you watch the video, it’s clear that the black men know they cannot speak up for themselves in fear of further accusations, whereas the white man is`able to do so without caution. This is a great example of how to use your privilege but also a harrowing representation of the extent to which racism still exists in America.
In a further discussion of the importance of intersectionality within feminism in the essay ‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House’, Lorde points out that it is not just necessary to value intersectionality but extremely beneficial. She states, ‘Difference must be not merely tolerated but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic.’ Lorde’s discussion of feminism is so ahead of its time and, despite the fact that it was first published in 1984, it’s still a really important book for 2018 because of this sophistication.
‘A room of one’s own may be a necessary for writing prose, but so are reams of paper, a typewriter, and plenty of time.’ This quote from the essay ‘Age, Race, Class, and Sex’ might just be my favourite from the entirety of the text. By referencing Virginia Woolf’s book about the disadvantages women face in the cultural sphere, particularly the literary one, Lorde portrays how there isn’t just one level of oppression. It may have been hard for white women to break into the literary world because of societal attitudes and disadvantaged education but many black women may not have even had the privilege of any education and the societal barriers that faced them meant that maybe they couldn’t get a seat on the bus, never mind admission to university. I am not degrading certain types of oppression in this discussion but rather portraying just how many different levels of oppression there are, which is why we must consider women as a group as varied and diverse and cater our feminism as such. As Lorde states, ‘Some problems we share as women, some we do not.’
Finally, Lorde’s essay, ‘The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism’ is so great and extremely thought-provoking. She explains why angry responses to racism (and all other issues of discrimination) are totally justified. Today, we are told to talk about feminism and oppression in a ‘calm and collected’ manner in order to be ‘taken seriously’- but this essay made me think, why should we? We have a right to be angry about the oppression women, people of colour and the LGBTQ community have faced. We shouldn’t have to smile and calmly dismiss sexist comments in order to be taken seriously. We should be taken seriously because these issues are real and affect millions of people every single day. Lorde states that dismissing black women’s arguments purely because they are angry ‘is merely another way of preserving racial blindness, the power of unaddressed privilege, unbleached, intact.’ So the next time someone tells you that they will not listen to you if you are angry, tell them that you won’t listen to them unless they ARE angry, because they should be.
One of our reps, Emma Randall, is sharing her views on ‘Sister Outsider’ this month:
‘Audre Lorde’s ‘Sister Outsider’ is filled with inspirational and eye opening passages. Whether it being in her anecdotes during her ‘Trip to Russia’ and ‘Grenada revisited’ or in the transcript of an interview with Adrienne Rich, Lorde teaches us what it is like to be a black lesbian feminist through the powerful use of words in this collection. For me, ‘Sister Outsider’ amazed me in the way in which she used language to convey her thoughts and opinions. By writing almost poetically, Lorde was able to question the representation of black lesbian feminists and tackle issues regarding racism, homophobia, ageism and sexism in such a powerful way. In the essay ‘Poetry Is Not A Luxury’, Lorde explores the power of poetry and that it is ‘the vital necessity of our existence’ as it allows us to conceptualise ideas. Poetry provides Lorde with the ability to challenge society and the racism embedded into the system. Through poetry, those who have been oppressed are strong, she explains there is power in such differences and these must empower us. The oxymoron in the title ‘Sister Outsider’ suggests that Lorde doesn’t fit into any group in society and that she must create a sense of belonging for herself. The struggles faced by Lorde are presented in ‘An Open Letter to Mary Daly’. In this letter, Lorde writes to the white feminist author Mary Daly asking her about the absence of black goddesses in her book ‘Gyn/Ecology’.
‘Why are her goddess images only white, western European, judeo Christian? Where was Afrekete, Yemanje, Oyo and Mawulisa? Where were the warrior goddesses of the Vodun, the Dahomeian Amazons and the warrior women of Dan?’
Lorde shows that a Eurocentric scope dealing with only the ecology of Western women has been included in the book. In excluding black female heritage from the book Lorde suggests that a lack of understanding about the history of the black female is evident. This again marginalizes Lorde, deeming her as an outsider. It is important to take this message and apply it to our own experiences. Is the representation of all women included? Her letter received no reply from Mary Daly and was subsequently opened up to the community of women.
This collection has influenced many of my current thoughts and opinions, Lorde is able to inform the reader of the institutional dehumanization that oppresses minority groups in 1970 and 1980 America. Yet, this collection expands to all areas of society and it is timeless, I would recommend it to all.’
Emma and I will be going live on the Girls Against Instagram this evening at 5:30pm to discuss more about our views on Lorde’s essay collection so keep an eye out on our Instagram to join in the discussion and ask us any questions!
For the month of May, the book club will be reading ‘Herland’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Published in 1915, this is the earliest novel we have read so far. It’s a utopian novel describing an isolated society composed entirely of women. Perkins Gilman was a feminist writer of the 19th and early 20th century and she also wrote the well known short story ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’. ‘Herland’ is a fairly short novel so there’s no excuses not to join in and read it this month! You can join our GoodReads group to keep up to date with the book club and contribute to the discussion of all of the texts we read. You can also email us with your views on ‘Herland’ at firstname.lastname@example.org and, with your permission, we will include them in next month’s post! The post on ‘Herland’ will go up on Sunday 3rd June so please send any opinions over before then.
Hopefully see you over on our Instagram this evening for more discussion of ‘Sister Outsider’!
After decades of lawsuits, investigations and close calls, Bill Cosby has been found guilty of sexual assault. The comedian was convicted last week for drugging and molesting a Temple University employee, Andrea Constand in 2004. He faces up to 30 years in prison. Cosby’s image as a wholesome sitcom dad and moral exemplar has been irremediably tarnished in the past few years by dozens of women who accused him of drug-induced sexual assault. However, this conviction will redefine his legacy forever. The ruling was hailed as a turning point in the ‘Me Too’ and ‘Time’s Up’ movements. It is also a vindication for the multitude of women who doubted anyone would ever believe their words against that of the comedian and sitcom star once known as “America’s Dad”.
A few of his victims exited the courtroom after the verdict was announced, and broke down into tears inside the courthouse. These women, some who testified in court that Cosby sexually assaulted them, had been waiting for that moment for a long time. “Today, this jury has shown what the Me Too movement has been saying: that women are worthy of being believed.”, said Lili Bernard, who accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting her in the 1990’s. The leading voice for the ‘Me Too’ movement in Sacramento, Christine Pelosi described Bill Cosby’s verdict as a boost for the movement. “And to the next Bill Cosby out there, we’re coming for you”, she added.
There are so many men that fit into the description of “the next Bill Cosby”, but for all of them, time is up! Amongst the long list of men who have been accused, it seems the next Bill Cosby will be R. Kelly.In recent years, as more women have come forward to allege sexual misconduct, protests against R. Kelly have increased. Women of Color (a subcommittee of the Time’s Up organization) issued an open letter in which they condemned R. Kelly and joined the #MuteRKelly campaign on social media. In the letter, they asked multiple companies like Ticketmaster, Spotify, and Apple Music to cut ties with Kelly in the wake of recent allegations of physical and sexual abuse levied against him. The social media campaign #MuteRKelly has sought to stop the playing of his music and the cancellation of his concerts, and Time’s Up has joined that call. The Time’s Up letter addressed to Women Of Color (WOC), started by saying, “We see you. We feel you. Because we are you.”
The Me Too movement, which has destroyed the careers of numerous powerful men after a wave of sexual misconduct allegations, has helped women to be believed rather than attacked when making such accusations, even in cases when victims avoided speaking up for years, as in Cosby’s case. Today, once you’re found guilty of any sexual misbehavior, your contribution to the entertainment, business , political or media industry becomes irrelevant and this tossed into the trash bin. It’s an era of transparency, where more women appear less afraid to call out anyone for abuse and gender inequality in many different forms, and even re-examine accused abusers who thought they had escaped from the iron hands of this social movement.
There are many men like Bill Cosby and R. Kelly who quiver in fear whenever they read the news of one of their kind being convicted or sentenced. However, in the meantime, men like Harvey Weinstein and James Franco have a short time to prepare for the judgement day in court because time is up.